Thursday, April 2, 2009

This is the body who works here.

an excerpt from

"Body at Work" by Nancy Mairs

A "feminine text," all my reading had taught me, can be produced (by a woman or a man) only through "writing the body," the "feminine" body, which is, by definition, repressed by the "phallogocentricity" of language. So far, so good. But if language systematically represses "the feminine," yet writing requires language, then what on earth would "writing the body" entail? How could one "do" it? What would it "look" like if it were done? The rational (that is, linguistically permissible) answer is something like: Nothing at all. If the feminine is the pre-symbolic, the unconscious, the repressed, then the feminine is silence.

And yet. And yet. I have a voice--a "real" voice, the one you'll hear if you call me on the telephone--which emanates from a body--a "real" body, you believe, even when you cannot see it--and which I experience as uttering a feminine existence insofar as I am aware of being a woman (which is really quite far, almost all the way). Am I doing it, then? Am I speaking the body? And if I write down my utterances, will I then be writing the body? Have I "got it" at last?

While I was stumbling around in my head like this, straining to catch faint echoes of "difference" yet privately convinced that I'd be too stupid to recognize it even if it blatted like a tuba straight in my ear, I kept myself busy at whatever writing tasks came my way. More and more often, what I wrote had bodies in it--my own body, sometimes crippled and sometimes not (the way it continues to occupy my dreams), and the bodies of others, Virginia Woolf and Alice Walker and Chinese women with bound feet--and after a while it came to me that I was writing about bodies because a body was writing: me. Incorporation is an act. The body writing: writing the body. I couldn't think such a thing, I could only do it.

After that, I stopped worrying about whether the feminine can or cannot be written. (I think, on balance, that it can but that reviewers won't like it much.) I just keep inscribing the fathers' words with my woman's fingers and hope that the feminine will bleed through. What has come to concern me more is the specificity that bodily existence confers. I have lost, or at least have tried to lose, the desire that underlay my early, academic writing--the desire to establish myself as an authoritative impersonal consciousness capable of generally valid insights drawn with the humanistic equivalence of scientific objectivity. Henceforth, knowing myself incapable of touching without transforming, I must be careful in a way I never dreamed before. I can never write as Authority, as Essayist, as Literary Critic. I can write only from this body as it is now: female, white, well-educated, moderately prosperous, crippled, a Roman Catholic convert, heterosexual. . . .

This is the body that works here.

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